BY: JAN ANTONSSON
NOVEMBER 9, 2013
“The night is far gone, the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” (Rom. 12:12)
The dictionary definition of transformation is: “a marked change, as in appearance or character, usually for the better.” That, at least, is what we all hope for, to be better, but a darker definition I found was a radical change for the worst as is caused by cancer. Whatever it means to you, the word probably has entered your game plan in setting your life goals. Certainly Christians have all manner of definitions of transformation, beginning with those things that we’re supposed to do to please our parents, continuing on with the changes we were told we must make to be pleasing to God, and finally, coming full circle, to the realization that no matter the pressure to change, or the promises of reward if or when we achieve the transformation, there is precious little we can do about changing ourselves.
In our on-line discussion group, the question came up about why Jesus told His listeners to “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 4:17) Repent means to change one’s mind, but about what? Going back to the text, before Jesus, John the Baptist had called Israel to repent, and those that did, he baptized in the Jordan River. He warned them that “every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matt. 3:10) Gospel preachers in my youth solemnly told us that this means if we don’t produce good fruit, we’re going to hell. That conclusion cannot be justified, because John also said, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Matt. 3:11-12)
Many of us grew up with threats of hell fire, which is probably why verses 11-12, were not included in those frightening sermons, because according to John, the PROMISE was that Jesus would baptize His followers (not pagans or Gentiles) with the Holy Spirit AND with fire. Fire is the promise for Christ’s followers. If that means eternal damnation, then who would follow Him? The only way John’s promise could be considered Good News is if the Fire were good for us, and so it is, for “Our God is a consuming fire.” (Heb. 12:29) It took the Apostle Paul to explain that the fire burns off the dross, and even though all our works may be burned up, we ourselves will be saved, “but only as through fire.” (I Cor. 3:15) Fire is God’s instrument of transformation for all of us.
Those of us who have raised self effort to an art form, may be loath to believe that all our good intentions to please God were for naught, and this is why we must repent, change our minds about how we achieve transformation. Old age helps in this process, because we no longer have the energy to try this or that formula to achieve self actualization; we’re tired and need to rest, we know we need to stop and listen to the still small voice, but how do we achieve that?
In my youth, I tried meditation, the kind where you sit cross legged on the floor and stare at the wall, in an attempt to empty your mind of all your own thoughts, ideas, schemes, or plans (the Buddhist call for repentance perhaps?). A Buddhist friend lived with us for a while. He meditated in the aforementioned position at least twice a day. Lenny joined him for a period of time and not to be left out, I decided to give it a try. It’s not as easy as it looks to sit with your legs enter-twined. Your joints protest; your back gives you warning pangs, and how can your mind be emptied with all that going on? I may have lasted 5 minutes, but I quickly decided that this was not for me.
My best time to meditate was when I was jogging. Then, with my body occupied with motion, my mind could soar freely and Father God and I had some wonderful fellowship. In fact, it was in one of these times that He prophesied to me that He was sending me a husband who would flow together with me in ministry and comfort to others. I had been single for about 5 years by this point, and since my previous marriage had been a nightmare, I was not thrilled about entering into another one, and said so. Nevertheless, the Lord does what He does, and soon enough, he brought Lenny into my life. The rest, as they say, is history.
That period in my life of being in the presence of the Lord while jogging, brought me closer to God and farther from religion’s dictates. Lenny was a mentor in walking by the voice of the Lord, rather than the voice of a man, though I really didn’t realize the extent of that blessing until after he passed. It was easier for me to realize that God, not me, does the transforming, when walking with Lenny, who had learned this truth much earlier.
When we are allowing ourselves to be conformed to the expectations of a religious group, no matter how uplifting and beneficial they seem, we lose sight of the ONE whose job it is to finish the good work He began when He chose us. That event, by the way, happened before the foundation of the world and had nothing at all to do with our decision for Christ. It was a predestined transaction, a transformation begun when morning stars sang together and the sons of God shouted for joy at His brilliance, His majesty, His power, and His marvelous love.
Most religions applaud uniformity, scorn those who won’t comply, and make sure that no one gets rewarded if he or she doesn’t make the cut, doesn’t fit in. What that does is compel us to compare ourselves to those we deem successful, to be sure that we’ll get the same reward we’re sure they have coming. No two of us are alike, with the exception of identical twins, so trying to be like someone else is as uncomfortable as sitting cross legged on the floor. It doesn’t work. It kills our soul because we always come up short. In Romans 12:2, we see that repentance is a “God job”: “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Most translations leave us thinking that this is a command we must obey, rather than the statement of what God has freely done for us in Christ, where we live and move and have our being. I appreciate Jonathan Mitchell’s translation of this verse, because it points us in the right direction that it is God who continuously works repentance in us, and it’s always for good!
“And stop constantly conforming yourself to (or, as passive: And quit being repeatedly fashioned or patterned together by) this age [or, with other MSS: and not to be continuously configured to this age; and to not constantly remodel yourself for this age], but on the contrary, be continuously transformed (transfigured; changed in shape, form and semblance) by the renewing (or: in the renewal; for the making-back-up-new again) of your mind into the [situation and condition for] you to be habitually examining in order to be testing and, after scrutiny, approving what [is] God’s will (design; purpose; resolve; intent): the good and well-pleasing, even perfect (finished and complete)! (or: the thing [that is] virtuous, satisfying and able to succeed.)” (Jonathan Mitchell).
That spells out the everlasting truth that God is the ONLY Transformer who can bring us out of darkness into His light: transformation. It is our destiny to be transformed by the grace of God into Light bearers and Good News bringers and our life’s journey is from one realm of glory to another. It is line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, there a little, until the work of the Spirit has led us on the most remarkable adventure of our lives, freeing us from the miry clay which held us captive, and lifting us up to sit in heavenly places with Christ our Lord and God our Father. What a day of rejoicing that is. Open our eyes to see you, Father that we may know as we are known. Amen.